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Designing For Survival In The Philippines

Design Against the Elements is a global call-to-arms competition for architects to disaster-proof the world's most vulnerable communities against...

Jason Tan
Jason Tan on March 8, 2010.

The Philippines is prime geographic real estate for natural disasters. The country is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, which means it will always be bracing for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. It’s also in a tropical region which means that it will always bear a disproportionate amount of damage from typhoons that are intensifying in magnitude over time because of climate change – a phenomenon that it has contributed little to relative to other countries.

Widespread poverty and dysfunctional urban planning compound the problem. An estimated 44% of the population are squatting in make-shift homes built from detritus and scrap metal. It’s no surprise then that the Philippines is perennially among the top ten countries that suffer the most loss of life and property damage from natural disasters.

Two years ago, The United Architects of the Philippines headed a global design competition for sustainable, natural disaster-resistant schools (schools serve as primary typhoon shelters for low-income communities). The winning design, a bamboo school by Eleena Jamil of Malaysia (pictured above), was completely built earlier this year and will serve as a template for school designs in similarly vulnerable countries. Just as innovative as the architecture was the economic ecosystem. Farmers built the school in exchange for payment from the government as well as special consideration for their children’s admission.

This year, the same group of organizers in partnership with local non-profit housing builders, Gawad Kalinga, and the Asian Development Bank are raising the stakes. They recently launched Design Against the Elements, a global competition to design an entirely sustainable disaster-proof community in Taguig, the fastest growing city in the Philippines. First prize is US$10,000 and second prize is US$7,500. Additional cash will also be awarded for energy efficiency and green design.

Design submissions are planned to be open sourced to local and foreign governments who need them.

Thinking...